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John William Davis papers

Call Number: MS 170

Scope and Contents

The John W. Davis Papers consist of ninety feet of correspondence, writings, diaries, photographs, printed matter, and miscellaneous working papers spanning from 1846 to 1959. The papers are arranged in eleven series: I 1846-1918, II 1918-192, III CORRESPONDENCE, 1921-1923, IV CORRESPONDENCE, 1924-1955, V PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, VI SPEECHES AND WRITINGS, VII LAW PRACTICE, VIII CIVIC AND PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES, IX HARBAUGH BIOGRAPHY, X WRITINGS OF OTHERS, XI PERSONAL AND MISCELLANEOUS PAPERS.

The papers in Series I, II, III, and V are fully processed. The remainder are only roughly organized.

Series I, 1846-1918, contains all the papers related to Davis and his family before he became Ambassador to Great Britain except for speeches (in Series VI) and photographs and clippings (in Series XI). Two-thirds of this series is correspondence, consisting mainly of Davis's letters to members of his family between 1888 and 1918. There is hardly any professional correspondence, but Davis often discussed his work in family letters. The other papers in this series are miscellaneous items belonging to Davis, his father, and his first wife. This includes a diary and miscellaneous working papers related to Davis's participation in the conference on prisoners of war in 1918.

Series II, 1918-1921, contains all the papers related to Davis's ambassadorship except for speeches (in Series VI) and photographs, clippings, and memorabilia (in Series XI). The papers are arranged in three sections: correspondence, special files, and diaries. Most of the letters except those to Emma Kennedy Davis and Frank L. Polk are trivial social communications, but the diaries are compensatingly rich in description of Davis's activities as ambassador. The special files consist of diplomatic memoranda, engagement books, and printed mementoes of ceremonial occasions.

Series III, CORRESPONDENCE, 1921-1923, and Series IV, CORRESPONDENCE, 1924-1955, consist mainly of letters related to Davis's activities other than his private law practice. There is additional correspondence filed by topic in Series VII, VIII, and XI.

Series V, PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, consists of memoranda, research material, clippings, speeches, and miscellaneous items. There are campaign photographs in Series XI.

Series VI, SPEECHES AND WRITINGS, consists of manuscript and printed versions of speeches, public statements, and writings for publication. Davis's presidential campaign speeches are in Series V. His father's political writings are in Series I.

Series VII, LAW PRACTICE, consists of a small amount of correspondence and documents related to Davis's service as Solicitor General and his private practice in New York. The period of government service is represented only by printed material, some of which, however, has Davis's annotations. The few inches of correspondence were selected and arranged by William H. Harbaugh. There may be additional correspondence related to legal matters in Series I, III, and IV.

Series VIII, CIVIC AND PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES, consists of reports, minutes, memoranda, and miscellaneous working papers related to Davis's service on boards and committees of organizations dedicated to philanthropy, civic betterment, and the advancement of the legal profession. There is significant correspondence connected with the American Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment (including the matter of Alger Hiss), but most of the letters related to these activities are in Series III and IV.

Series IX, HARBAUGH BIOGRAPHY, consists of notes and research material gathered by William H. Harbaugh in preparation for his biography of Davis. The photostatic copies of original letters included in these files are all duplicated elsewhere in the Davis Papers.

Series X, WRITINGS OF OTHERS, consists of manuscript and softbound printed material that Davis received from correspondents or collected in the course of his professional and civic activities. The principal concentrations of printed material are publications of the League of Women Voters and the New York State Bar Association in the 1930s.

Series XI, PERSONAL AND MISCELLANEOUS PAPERS, contains personal subject files, newspaper clippings, biographical material, datebooks, photographs, scrapbooks, and memorabilia. The subject files deal mainly with Davis's health and finances and the celebration of his eightieth birthday. The newspaper clippings, both loose and mounted in scrapbooks, span his entire career but are especially abundant for the 1910s and early 1920s. The photographs, ranging from snapshots to studio portraits, likewise span his entire career, and there are pictures of friends, family, and public gatherings as well as of Davis alone.

The John W. Davis Papers were given to Yale University Library by Davis's daughter, Julia Davis Adams, who also made a donation to pay for preservation of carbon copies of outgoing letters. Much of the collection was in the hands of William H. Harbaugh while he was preparing his biography, and he included his own research material when he passed on the papers to Yale.


  • 1846-1959


Conditions Governing Access

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Existence and Location of Copies

Correspondence, clippings, diaries, and printed matter available on microfilm (4,203 frames on 4 reels, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM84.

Pathe News film of John W. Davis and the Boy Scouts available on microfilm (1,000 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM99.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by John William Davis has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Charles Healy, 1961; and William Harbaugh, 1994, 1997; transfer from Circulation Department, SML, 1997.


Arranged in eleven series and two additions: I.1846-1918; II.1918-1921; III.Correspondence, 1921-1923; IV.Correspondence, 1924-1955; V.Presidential Campaign; VI.Speeches and Writings; VII.Law Practice; VIII.Civic and Professional Activities; IX.Harbaugh Biography; X.Writings of others; XI.Personal and Miscellaneous Papers.


92.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, speeches and writings, diaries, photographs, extensive material from the presidential campaign of 1924, and material relating to John W. Davis's law practice and public activities. Correspondence makes up two-thirds of the papers including early letters by Davis to his family and his first wife, and letters while ambassador to Great Britain (1918-1923). The largest part of the correspondence is for the period 1924-1955 and concerns Davis's civic and political activities. Papers relating to his law practice in New York, where he was counsel to J.P. Morgan and Co., and others are separately arranged. His service as Solicitor General of the United States (1913-19180 is documented only by printed matter with his marginalia. Also in the papers are research materials and drafts by William H. Harbaugh for his biography of Davis, published in 1973.

Biographical / Historical

John William Davis received his L.L.B. in 1895 and began practicing law. He was elected to Congress from West Virginia in 1910 and 1912. Davis was solicitor general of the United States from 1913-1918 and ambassador to Great Britain from 1918-1921. He was the Democratic candidate for president in 1924.

Guide to the John William Davis Papers
Under Revision
Series I-III, V Processed by Linda Wrigley; Series IV, VI-XI Preliminarily Processed by Linda Wrigley and Susan Grigg
February 1980
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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